Is California a No-Fault State, and Does It Impact Your Car Accident Case?



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In 2020, 3,558 fatal crashes led to 3,847 deaths in California. Out of 100,000 population, 9.7 people die due to road accidents. Aside from fatalities, car accidents also result in injuries and property damage.

For instance, a speeding car caused a high-impact accident in Los Angeles. As a result, four people died, and eight people sustained injuries. A surveillance video showed that the vehicle ran a red light and burst into flames after colliding with multiple cars. The fire was so destructive that it melted a traffic light.

Another incident involved a Hyundai Accent and a Honda Accord. While crossing the double yellow lines, the Hyundai Accent hit the other vehicle, killing one motorist and four passengers. According to the California Highway Patrol, the Hyundai driver might have been under the influence during the accident.

These are preventable accidents in California caused by apparently negligent drivers. Most people may assume that the at-fault party would be liable for all damages. However, that may depend on part on the answer to one question: is California a no-fault state?

Connect with a personal injury lawyer if you suffered bodily injury or property damage in a California car accident. An attorney can answer questions of liability for damages and negotiate with your insurance company to establish fault.


Have you recently been injured in an accident?



Key Takeaways
  • California does not follow the no-fault system. It is an at-fault state wherein the liable person must compensate the victim.
  • The state requires a minimum coverage of $15,000 for injury or death to one person, $30,000 for injury or death to more than one person, and $5,000 for property damage.
  • In a California auto accident, liability may lie with the driver, car manufacturer, or the city or state.

At-Fault State vs. No-Fault State

States may either follow the at-fault or no-fault system. This will affect the auto insurance claim amount and process.

What is an at-fault state?

An at-fault state establishes the at-fault party and deems them responsible for the resulting damages and injuries. In a car accident, the at-fault driver’s insurer is typically accountable for paying the damages. These include medical bills, and other costs associated with the accident, up to the policy limits. 

California is a fault state. Consequently, the at-fault driver’s insurance company must compensate the other party. You must file a car accident claim with the at-fault party’s insurance company to receive the amount. Other at-fault states include Texas, Alabama, Connecticut, and Washington.

Your lawyer may compile and submit documents to the insurance company to establish fault. For example, they may send CCTV footage showing the driver ran the red light before crashing into your vehicle. Moreover, they may submit medical reports to show your injuries and the treatments you have undergone.

If the insurance adjuster approves your claim, they will offer an amount that may cover your medical expenses and property repair costs. But if you disagree with the payout, you may file a personal injury case. 

You can recover damages if you win the case. Aside from monetary losses, the court can also award non-economic damages. These compensate for pain and suffering, anguish, and emotional trauma.

What is a no-fault state?

In a no-fault state, the drivers must file a claim with their own insurance companies. Hence, the injured individuals do not need to prove fault.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, drivers in a no-fault insurance state must purchase personal injury protection (PIP). Depending on the state, it covers the insured’s medical expenses and lost wages up to a certain percentage.

States with no-fault insurance include Florida, Massachusetts, and Michigan. For example, the PIP in Florida covers 80 percent of medical expenses up to $10,000. Vehicle owners must also purchase a property damage liability (PDL) to cover someone else’s property’s repair or replacement costs. Failure to have a PIP and PDL can lead to a license suspension of up to three years.

However, drivers in Massachusetts must have four types of insurance coverage. The state requires PIP, bodily injury liability, injury caused by an uninsured automobile, and PDL. The required minimum limit for PIP is $8,000 and $5,000 for property damage, which is less than the coverage in Florida.

Michigan requires a higher minimum coverage of $50,000 for PIP. The state also allows vehicle owners to choose from auto insurance options, such as unlimited or up to $250,000 in coverage. Car accident victims may still sue, subject to conditions set by the state. 

Car Insurance in California

Drivers in California should know important auto insurance details. These include insurance requirements, coverage in case of uninsured motorists, and the insurance claim process.

Insurance requirements

Section 16020 of the California Vehicle Code requires motorists to carry proof of auto liability insurance in their cars. According to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), the acceptable insurance types in California are the following:

  • Motor vehicle insurance policy
  • $35,000 cash deposit with the DMV
  • Self-insurance certificate
  • $35,000 surety bond

Section 16056 of the Vehicle Code also provides the minimum insurance coverage for private vehicles. The policy must cover at least $30,000 for bodily injury or death to one individual and at least $60,000 for injury or death to two or more persons. The insurance law also requires a $15,000 payout for property damage at a minimum.

Uninsured motorists

According to the Department of Insurance, California insurance companies must offer uninsured motorist coverage (UMC) or underinsured motorist coverage (UIC). They will ask you to sign a waiver if you turn it down.

UMC and UIC pay for your medical bills in case the at-fault party is an uninsured or underinsured driver. The coverage is the same as indicated in your policy. Moreover, it covers other expenses, such as property or vehicle damage repair costs.

Section 16029 of the California Vehicle Code provides penalties for driving without insurance. First-time offenders must pay up to $200, while subsequent convictions involve a fine of $500. The vehicle may also be impounded.

Process

You must notify your insurer about the incident so the adjusters can investigate your claim. The company will also contact you to ask for more details, such as injuries and losses. The adjuster will inspect vehicle damage, medical bills, and other evidence.

After the investigation, they will provide an estimate. You may reject the offer and let your car accident attorney negotiate with the company. According to the California Department of Insurance, it can take up to 15 days before the company contacts you. You may call your agent or insurer if you notice an unreasonable delay.

Determining Liability in California Auto Accidents

The possible liable parties in a motor vehicle accident include the drivers, auto manufacturers, and the government.

Drivers

Your car accident attorney must prove the other driver’s negligence. The following negligent acts may lead to road crashes in California:

  • Failure to stop at a red light
  • Inattentive driving
  • Drunk driving
  • Failure to yield the right of way
  • Speeding
  • Improper lane changes

For example, a Corvette ran a red light in San Fernando Valley, causing the death of two people. A surveillance video showed the Corvette hurtled into a mini mall’s parking lot after hitting a Honda Accord. According to the police, the Corvette’s speed was about 90 mph before the accident.

In Sutter County, California, a Chevrolet pickup truck collided with a Chevrolet Trailblazer. It led to the death of a mother and her infant. The California Highway Patrol found that the Chevrolet driver exceeded the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit. As a result, the police arrested him on suspicion of DUI.

The other driver may also be liable due to distracted driving. It involves any behavior that takes a driver’s mind off the road. Using a phone while operating a vehicle is an example of inattentive driving. Daydreaming while driving can also lead to accidents because the driver does not have their full attention on the road.

Auto manufacturers

The product liability doctrine provides the plaintiff with a cause of action in case of defective items, such as cars and auto parts. You may sue based on manufacturing defects, design flaws, inadequate warning of risks, and breach of warranty.

Government regulators and companies have recalled vehicles in the past. For example, California-based Riven Automotive recalled 13,000 cars due to loose fasteners. A company representative said that the loose fasteners might affect the steering knuckle and lead to loss of control. Riven also recalled almost 500 pickup trucks because of possible airbag issues.

Ford also recalled 800 vehicles due to a braking system defect. The company stated that the potential leak might cause longer and inconsistent brake pedal travel. Although no related accidents have been reported, manufacturing defects increase crash risk.

In January 2023, Hyundai recalled a hybrid car model. According to the company, the recall was due to a suspected issue with the fuel tank that may cause fires. Owners and passengers may notice a fuel smell or visible leak in affected vehicles.

States and cities

ABC7 News reported that 391 potholes across the Bay Area affected more than 24 vehicles. One car even veered in another direction. A victim complained of the expenses needed for a tire replacement. KRON-TV also stated that a pothole in CA-101 damaged almost 25 vehicles.

California allows people to submit damage claims in case of fatality, injury, or property damage. The state only collects filing fees for claims of $10,000 or more.

You must complete and sign Form LD-0274 and send the documents to the District Claims Office. But in case of claims over $10,000, you must submit the necessary documents to the Government Claims Program.

Filing a Car Accident Case in California

Before filing a car accident lawsuit, you must hire a personal injury attorney. They can establish legal standing and follow the claims process.

Hire a lawyer

A personal injury lawyer can give legal advice after knowing the facts of your case. They also visit the accident scene to gather evidence and interview possible witnesses.

Moreover, they can request medical records that may be difficult to access. A personal injury lawyer can help build strong evidence for your car accident case.

An attorney also reviews the police report and other documents related to the incident. This way, it can better negotiate with the at-fault driver’s insurance company, if you agree to settle. But they can represent your interests in court if you want to proceed to trial.

Establish legal standing

The court will accept your case if you have legal standing. It refers to your capacity to file a particular case. For example, the injured person can initiate a personal injury lawsuit but not a bystander.

In California, you can sue a person or a business. Your car accident lawyer must know the other driver’s legal name and address to file a complaint. In suing a business, you can file a suit against the owner or the company’s legal name.

Observe the statute of limitations

Section 335.1 of the California Code of Civil Procedure states that injured parties must file a personal injury lawsuit within two years. After the time limit, the court will not allow filing a civil case with the same cause of action.

Did you know?

On average, auto insurance in California costs $2,521 annually. But if you only want the minimum coverage cost, you can pay $764 yearly. The car insurance cost in California is reasonable compared to other states.

Find a Car Accident Lawyer in California

California is an at-fault state, which means you must establish liability for vehicle accidents in California. Once you have evidence of fault, you must file an injury claim with the other party’s insurance company. 

Visit The Personal Injury Center to learn more about California accident laws so that you can protect your rights. We can also match you with an attorney through our free case evaluation.

File an insurance claim or lawsuit for a car accident in California. Visit The Personal Injury Center for free legal information and consultation now!

FAQs on California Car Accidents

No, accident forgiveness is not available in California. Insurance companies that offer accident forgiveness will not consider a first accident in calculating your premiums. Some insurers offer this option as an incentive to new customers. 

Road accidents in California include rear-end collisions, head-on crashes, side-impact collisions, and side-swipe accidents. Single and multiple-vehicle crashes are also common in the state.

Incidents involving non-catastrophic injuries can take about six months to settle. But if it goes to trial, the average timespan for a resolution is 18 months.